the end contribute to its dissolution, so the efforts of former adventurers. All this may be performed which might have promoted learning in its feeble in a society of long continuance, but if the kingdom commencement, may, if continued, retard its pro-be but of short duration, as was the case of Arabia, gress. The paths of science, which were at first learning seems coeval, sympathizes with its politi. intricate because untrodden, may at last grow toil-cal struggles, and is annihilated in its dissolution. some, because too much frequented. As learning But permanence in a state is not alone sufficient; advances, the candidates for its honours become it is requisite also for this end that it should be free. more numerous, and the acquisition of fame more Naturalists assure us, that all animals are sagac. uncertain: the modest may despair of attaining it, ous in proportion as they are removed from the and the opulent think it too precarious to pursue. tyranny of others. In native liberty, the elephant Thus the task of supporting the honour of the is a citizen, and the beaver an architect; but whentimes may at last devolve on indigence and effron- ever the tyrant man intrudes upon their communitery, while learning must partake of the contempt ty, their spirit is broken, they seem anxious only of its professors. for safety, and their intellects suffer an equal dimiTo illustrate these assertions, it may be proper nution with their prosperity. The parallel will hold to take a slight review of the decline of ancient with regard to mankind. Fear naturally represses learning; to consider how far its depravation was invention; benevolence, ambition: for in a nation owing to the impossibility of supporting continued of slaves, as in the despotic governments of the perfection; in what respects it proceeded from vol- East, to labour after fame is to be a candidate for untary corruption; and how far it was hastened on danger. by accident. If modern learning be compared with To attain literary excellence also, It is requisite ancient, in these different lights, a parallel between that the soil and climate should, as much as possiboth, which has hitherto produced only vain dis- ble, conduce to happiness. The earth must sup pute, may contribute to amusement, perhaps to in-ply man with the necessaries of life, before he has struction. We shall thus be enabled to perceive leisure or inclination to pursue more refined enjoywhat period of antiquity the present age most re- ments. The climate also must be equally indulgent; sembles, whether we are making advances towards for in too warm a region the mind is relaxed into excellence, or retiring again to primeval obscurity; languor, and by the opposite excess is chilled into we shall thus be taught to acquiesce in those de- torpid inactivity. fects which it is impossible to prevent, and reject all faulty innovations, though offered under the specious titles of improvement.

These are the principal advantages which tend to the improvement of learning; and all these were united in the states of Greece and Rome.

We must now examine what hastens, or pre

Learning, when planted in any country, is transient and fading, nor does it flourish till slow gra-vents its decline. dations of improvement have naturalized it to the Those who behold the phenomena of nature, soil. It makes feeble advances, begins among the and content themselves with the view without invulgar, and rises into reputation among the great. quiring into their causes, are perhaps wiser than is It can not be established in a state at once, by intro- generally imagined. In this manner our rude anducing the learned of other countries; these may cestors were acquainted with facts; and poetry, grace a court, but seldom enlighten a kingdom. which helped the imagination and the memory, was Ptolemy Philadelphus, Constantine Porphyroge- thought the most proper vehicle for conveying their neta, Alfred, or Charlemagne, might have invited knowledge to posterity. It was the poet who harlearned foreigners into their dominions, but could monized the ungrateful accents of his native dia not establish learning. While in the radiance of lect, who lifted it above common conversation, and royal favour, every art and science seemed to flour-shaped its rude combinations into order. From ish; but when that was withdrawn, they quickly him the orator formed a style: and though poetry felt the rigours of a strange climate, and with exo- first rose out of prose, in turn it gave birth to every tic constitutions perished by neglect. prosaic excellence. Musical period, concise expression, and delicacy of sentiment, were all excellencies derived from the poet; in short, he not only preceded but formed the orator, philosopher, and historian.

When the observations of past ages were col

As the arts and sciences are slow in coming to maturity, it is requisite, in order to their perfection, that the state should be permanent which gives them reception. There are numberless attempts without success, and experiments without conclusion, between the first rudiments of an art, and its lected, philosophy next began to examine their utmost perfection; between the outlines of a sha- causes. She had numberless facts from which to dow, and the picture of an Apelles. Leisure is re- draw proper inferences, and poetry had taught her quired to go through the tedious interval, to join the strongest expression to enforce them. Thus the experience of predecessors to our own, or en- the Greek philosophers, for instance, exerted all la-ge our views, by building on the ruined attempts their happy talents in the investigation of truth

and the production of beauty. They saw, that ly give us still fainter resemblances of original beauthere was more excellence in captivating the judg. ty. It might still suggest, that explained wit makes ment, than in raising a momentary astonishment. but a feeble impression; that the observations of In their arts they imitated only such parts of nature others are soon forgotten, those made by ourselves as might please in the representation; in the sci- are permanent and useful. But it seems, underences, they cultivated such parts of knowledge as it standings of every size were to be mechanically inwas every man's duty to know. Thus learning structed in poetry. If the reader was too dull to was encouraged, protected, and honoured; and in relish the beauties of Virgil, the comment of Ser its turn it adorned, strengthened, and harmonized vius was ready to brighten his imagination; if Tethe community. rence could not raise him to a smile, Evantius was at hand, with a long-winded scholium to increase his titilation. Such rules are calculated to make blockheads talk, but all the lemmata of the Lyceum are unable to give him feeling.

But it would be endless to recount all the abCritics, sophists, grammarians, rhetoricians, and surdities which were hatched in the schools of commentators, now began to figure in the literary those specious idlers; be it sufficient to say, that commonwealth. In the dawn of science such are they increased as learning improved, but swarmed generally modest, and not entirely useless. Their on its decline. It was then that every work of performances serve to mark the progress of learn- taste was buried in long comments, every useful ing, though they seldom contribute to its improve- subject in morals was distinguished away into casument. But as nothing but speculation was required istry, and doubt and subtlety characterized the learnin making proficients in their respective departing of the age. Metrodorus, Valerius Probus, ments, so neither the satire nor the contempt of the Aulus Gellius, Pedianus, Boethius, and a hundred wise, though Socrates was of the number, nor the others, to be acquainted with whom might show laws levelled at them by the state, though Cato much reading, and but little judgment; these, I was in the legislature, could prevent their ap- say, made choice each of an author, and delivered proaches.* Possessed of all the advantages of un-all their load of learning on his back. Shame to feeling dulness, laborious, insensible, and persever-our ancestors! many of their works have reached ing, they still proceed mending and mending every our times entire, while Tacitus himself has suffer. work of genius, or, to speak without irony, under-ed mutilation. mining all that was polite and useful. Libraries In a word, the commonwealth of literature was were loaded, but not enriched with their labours, at last wholly overrun by these studious triflers. while the fatigue of reading their explanatory com- Men of real genius were lost in the multitude, or, ments was tenfold that which might suffice for un- as in a world of fools it were folly to aim at being derstanding the original, and their works effectual- an only exception, obliged to conform to every prely increased our application, by professing to re- vailing absurdity of the times. Original producmove it. tions seldom appeared, and learning, as if grown superannuated, bestowed all its panegyric upon the vigour of its youth, and turned encomiast upon its former achievements.

But as the mind is vigorous and active, and experiment is dilatory and painful, the spirit of philosophy being excited, the reasoner, when destitute of experiment, had recourse to theory, and gave up what was useful for refinement.

Against so obstinate and irrefragable an enemy, what could avail the unsupported sallies of genius, or the opposition of transitory resentment? In short, they conquered by persevering, claimed the It is to these, then, that the depravation of anright of dictating upon every work of taste, senti- cient polite learning is principally to be ascribed. ment, or genius, and at last, when destitute of em- By them it was separated from common sense, and ployment, like the supernumerary domestics of the made the proper employment of speculative idlers, great, made work for each other. Men bred up among books, and seeing nature only They now took upon them to teach poetry to by reflection, could do little, except hunt after perthose who wanted genius: and the power of dis-plexity and confusion. The public, therefore, with puting, to those who knew nothing of the subject reason, rejected learning, when thus rendered bar in debate. It was observed how some of the most ren, though voluminous; for we may be assured, admired poets had copied nature. From these they that the generality of mankind never lose a passion collected dry rules, dignified with long names, and for letters, while they continue to be either amus. such were obtruded upon the public for their im-ing or useful,

provement. Common sense would be apt to sug- It was such writers as these, that rendered learngest, that the art might be studied more to advan- ing unfit for uniting and strengthening civil societage, rather by imitation than precept. It might ty, or for promoting the views of ambition. True suggest, that those rules were collected, not from philosophy had kept the Grecian states cemented nature, but a copy of nature, and would consequent into one effective body, more than any law for that Vide Sueton. Hist. Gram. purpose; and the Etrurian philosophy, which pre


A View of the Obscure Ages.

vailed in the first ages of Rome, inspired those pa- But let us take a more distinct view of those triot virtues which paved the way to universal em- ages of ignorance in which false refinement had inpire. But by the labours of commentators, when volved mankind, and see how far they resemble our philosophy became abstruse, or triflingly minute, own, when doubt was presented instead of knowledge, when the orator was taught to charm the multitude with the music of his periods, and pronounced a declamation that might be sung as well as spoken, and often upon subjects wholly fictitious; in such circumstances, learning was entirely unsuited to all the purposes of government, or the designs of the WHATEVER the skill of any country may be in ambitious. As long as the sciences could influence the sciences, it is from its excellence in polite learnthe state, and its politics were strengthened by them, ing alone, that it must expect a character from posso long did the community give them countenance terity. The poet and the historian are they who and protection. But the wiser part of mankind diffuse a lustre upon the age, and the philosopher would not be imposed upon by unintelligible jar- scarcely acquires any applause, unless his characgon, nor, like the knight in Pantagruel, swallow a ter be introduced to the vulgar by their mediation. himera for a breakfast, though even cooked by The obscure ages, which succeeded the decline Aristotle. As the philosopher grew useless in the of the Roman empire, are a striking instance of state, he also became contemptible. In the times the truth of this assertion. Whatever period of of Lucian, he was chiefly remarkable for his ava- those ill-fated times we happen to turn to, we shall rice, his impudence, and his beard. perceive more skill in the sciences among the pro

Under the auspicious influence of genius, arts fessors of them, more abstruse and deeper inquiry and sciences grew up together, and mutually illus- into every philosophical subject, and a greater trated each other. But when once pedants became show of subtlety and close reasoning, than in the lawgivers, the sciences began to want grace, and most enlightened ages of all antiquity.. But their the polite arts solidity; these grew crabbed and writings were mere speculative amusements, and sour, those meretricious and gaudy; the philosopher all their researches exhaustel upon trifles. Unbecame disgustingly precise, and the poet, ever skilled in the arts of adorning their knowledge, or straining after grace, caught only finery. adapting it to common sense, their voluminous productions rest peacefully in our libraries, or at best are inquired after from motives of curiosity, not by the scholar, but the virtuoso.

These men also contributed to obstruct the progress of wisdom, by addicting their readers to one particular sect, or some favourite science. They generally carried on a petty traffic in some little I am not insensible, that several late French creek: within that they busily plied about, and historians have exhibited the obscure ages in a drove an insignificant trade; but never ventured very different light. They have represented them out into the great ocean of knowledge, nor went as utterly ignorant both of arts and sciences, buried beyond the bounds that chance, conceit, or laziness, in the profoundest darkness, or only illuminated had first prescribed their inquiries. Their disci- with a feeble gleam, which, like an expiring taper, ples, instead of aiming at being originals them- rose and sunk by intervals. Such assertions, howselves, became imitators of that merit alone which ever, though they serve to help out the declaimer, was constantly proposed for their admiration. In should be cautiously admitted by the historian. exercises of this kind, the most stupid are generally For instance, the tenth century, is particularly dismost successful; for there is not in nature a more tinguished by posterity, with the appellation of imitative animal than a dunce. obscure. Yet, even in this, the reader's memory Hence ancient learning may be distinguished may possibly suggest the names of some, whose into three periods. Its commencement, or the age works, still preserved, discover a most extensive of poets; its maturity, or the age of philosophers; erudition, though rendered almost useless by affecand its decline, or the age of critics. In the poeti- tation and obscurity. A few of their names and cal age commentators were very few, but might writings may be mentioned, which will serve at have in some respects been useful. In its philoso- once to confirm what I assert, and give the reader phical, their assistance must necessarily become an idea of what kind of learning an age declining obnoxious; yet, as if the nearer we approached into obscurity chiefly chooses to cultivate. perfection the more we stood in need of their direc- About the tenth century flourished Leo the phi tions, in this period they began to grow numerous. losopher. We have seven volumes folio of his coBut when polite learning was no more, then it lections of laws, published at Paris, 1647. He was those literary lawgivers made the most formi-wrote upon the art military, and understood also dable appearance. Corruptissima republica, plu- astronomy and judicial astrology. He was seven rimæ leges. TACIT. times more voluminous than Plato.

Solomon, the German, wrote a most elegant dic- commentaries, and compilations, and to evaporate tionary of the Latin tongue, still preserved in the in a folio the spirit that could scarcely have sufficed university of Louvain; Pantaleon, in the lives of for an epigram. The most barbarous times had his illustrious countrymen, speaks of it in the warm- men of learning, if commentators, compilers, poest strains of rapture. Dictionary writing was at lemic divines, and intricate metaphysicians, dethat time much in fashion. served the title.

Constantine Porphyrogenta was a man universally skilled in the sciences. His tracts on the administration of an empire, on tactics, and on laws, were published some years since at Leyden. His court, for he was emperor of the East, was resorted to by the learned from all parts of the world.

I have mentioned but a very inconsiderable number of the writers in this age of obscurity. The multiplicity of their publications will at least equal those of any similar period of the most polite antiquity. As, therefore, the writers of those times are almost entirely forgotten, we may infer, that the number of publications alone will never secure any age whatsoever from oblivion. Nor can printing,

Luitprandus was a most voluminous historian, and particularly famous for the history of his own times. The compliments paid him as a writer are contrary to what Mr. Baumelle has remarked, presaid to exceed even his own voluminous produc-vent literary decline for the future, since it only intions. I can not pass over one of a later date made creases the number of books, without advancing him by a German divine. Luitprandus nunquam their intrinsic merit. Luitprando dissimilis.

Alfric composed several grammars and dictionaries still preserved among the curious.


Pope Sylvester the Second wrote a treatise on the sphere, on arithmetic and geometry, published some years since at Paris.

Of the Present State of Polite Learning in Italy.

FROM ancient we are now come to modern times, and, in running over Europe, we shall find, that wherever learning has been cultivated, it has flour. ished by the same advantages as in Greece and Rome; and that, wherever it has declined, it sinks by the same causes of decay.

Michael Psellus lived in this age, whose books in the sciences, I will not scruple to assert, contain more learning than those of any one of the earlier ages. His erudition was indeed amazing; and he was as voluminous as he was learned. The character given him by Allatius has, perhaps, more truth in it than will be granted by those who have Dante, the poet of Italy, who wrote in the thirseen none of his productions. There was, says he, teenth century, was the first who attempted to bring no science with which he was unacquainted, none learning from the cloister into the community, and which he did not write something upon, and none paint human nature in a language adapted to mowhich he did not leave better than he found it. Todern manners. He addressed a barbarous people mention his works would be endless. His com- in a method suited to their apprehensions; united mentaries on Aristotle alone amount to three folios. purgatory and the river Styx, St. Peter and Virgil, Bertholdus Teutonicus, a very voluminous his- Heaven and Hell together, and shows a strange torian, was a politician, and wrote against the gov-mixture of good sense and absurdity. The truth ernment under which he lived: but most of his is, he owes most of his reputation to the obscurity writings, though not all, are lost. of the times in which he lived. As in the land of Benin a man may pass for a prodigy of parts who can read, so in an age of barbarity, a small degree

Constantius Afer was a philosopher and physician. We have remaining but two volumes folio

of his philological performances. However, the of excellence ensures success. But it was great

historian who prefixes the life of the author to his works, says, that he wrote many more, as he kept on writing during the course of a long life.

merit in him to have lifted up the standard of nature, in spite of all the opposition and the persecution he received from contemporary criticism. To this standard every succeeding genius resorted; the germ of every art and science began to unfold; and to imitate nature was found to be the surest way of imitating antiquity. In a century or two after, modern Italy might justly boast of rivalling ancient Rome; equal in some branches of polite learning, and not far surpassed in others.

By this time the reader perceives the spirit of learning which at that time prevailed. The igno- They soon, however, fell from emulating the rance of the age was not owing to a dislike of know-wonders of antiquity into simple admiration. As ledge but a false standard of taste was erected, and if the word had been given when Vida and Tasso a wrong direction given to philosophical inquiry. wrote on the arts of poetry, the whole swarm of It was the fashion of the day to write dictionaries, critics was up. The Speronis of the age attempt

Lambertus published a universal history about this time, which has been printed at Frankfort in folio. An universal history in one folio! If he had consulted with his bookseller, he would have spun it out to ten at least; but Lambertus might have bad too much modesty.

ed to be awkwardly merry; and the Virtuosi and The Filosofi are entirely different from the forthe Nascotti sat upon the merits of every contem- mer. As those pretend to have got their knowporary performance. After the age of Clement VII. ledge from conversing with the living and polite, so the Italians seemed to think that there was more these boast of having theirs from books and study. merit in praising or censuring well, than in writing Bred up all their lives in colleges, they have there well; almost every subsequent performance since learned to think in track, servilely to follow the their time, being designed rather to show the ex-leader of their sect, and only to adopt such opinions cellence of the critic's taste than his genius. One as their universities, or the inquisition, are pleased or two poets, indeed, seem at present born to re- to allow. By these means, they are behind the rest deem the honour of their country. Metastasio has of Europe in several modern improvements; afraid restored nature in all her simplicity, and Maffei is to think for themselves; and their universities selthe first that has introduced a tragedy among his dom admit opinions as true, till universally received countrymen without a love-plot. Perhaps the Sam- among the rest of mankind. In short, were I to son of Milton, and the Athalia of Racine, might personize my ideas of learning in this country, I have been his guides in such an attempt. But two would represent it in the tawdry habits of the stage, poets in an age are not suffered to revive the splen- or else in the more homely guise of bearded schooldour of decaying genius; nor should we consider philosophy.

them as the standard by which to characterize a nation. Our measures of literary reputation must be taken rather from that numerous class of men, who, placed above the vulgar, are yet beneath the great, and who confer fame on others without receiving any portion of it themselves.

In Italy, then, we shall no where find a stronger passion for the arts of taste, yet no country making more feeble efforts to promote either. The Vir tuosi and Filosofi seem to have divided the Ency-querors, who, invading the dominions of others, clopedia between each other. Both inviolably at- leave their own to desolation, instead of studying tached to their respective pursuits; and, from an the German tongue, they continue to write in Latin. opposition of character, each holding the other in Thus, while they cultivated an obsolete language, the most sovereign contempt. The Virtuosi, pro- and vainly laboured to apply it to modern manners, fessed critics of beauty in the works of art, judge they neglected their own. of medals by the smell, and pictures by feeling; in At the same time also, they began at the wrong statuary, hang over a fragment with the most ar-end, I mean by being commentators; and though dent gaze of admiration : though wanting the head they have given many instances of their industry, and the other extremities, if dug from a ruin, the they have scarcely afforded any of genius. If criTorse becomes inestimable. An unintelligible ticism could have improved the taste of a people, monument of Etruscan barbarity can not be suffi- the Germans would have been the most polite na. ciently prized; and any thing from Herculaneum tion alive. We shall no where behold the learned excites rapture. When the intellectual taste is wear a more important appearance than here; no thus decayed, its relishes become false, and, like that where more dignified with professorships, or dressof sense, nothing will satisfy but what is best suited ed out in the fopperies of scholastic finery. Howto feed the disease. ever, they seem to earn all the honours of this kind which they enjoy. Their assiduity is unparal leled; and did they employ half those hours on study which they bestow on reading, we might

Poetry is no longer among them an imitation of what we see, but of what a visionary might wish. The zephyr breathes the most exquisite perfume, the trees wear eternal verdure; fawns, and dryads, be induced to pity as well as praise their painful and hamadryads, stand ready to fan the sultry pre-eminence. But guilty of a fault too common shepherdess, who has forgot indeed the pretti- to great readers, they write through volumes, while nesses with which Guarini's shepherdesses have they do not think through a page. Never fatigued been reproached, but is so simple and innocent as themselves, they think the reader can never be often to have no meaning. Happy country, where weary; so they drone on, saying all that can be said the pastoral age begins to revive! where the wits on the subject, selecting what may be advanc even of Rome, are united into a rural group of ed to the purpose. Were angels to write books, nymphs and swains, under the appellation of mo- they never would write folios. dern Arcadians: where in the midst of porticos, But let the Germans have their due; if they are processions, and cavalcades, abbés turned shep-dull, no nation alive assumes a more laudable soherds, and shepherdesses without sheep indulge lemnity, or better understands all the decorums of their innocent divertimenti. stupidity. Let the discourse of a professor run on


Of Polite Learning in Germany.

If we examine the state of learning in Germany, we shall find that the Germans early discovered a passion for polite literature; but unhappily, like con

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